Last October, when on a rhumb line from Venice Inlet
to Key West
in my Cal 28
, I got to experience my first knock down.
A buddy and myself were sailing more or less south with about 15kts steadily blowing from dead astern. Sailing on the backs of the swells, wing and wing with a 150 Genny, making 6kts over ground even while towing an 11' Whaler. We kept this course for almost 80 miles of the 150 mile crossing.
About 0200, we changed watch, with my buddy Bill going below for some rest. It was a dark, overcast no moon kind of night, but the wind
and waves were about the same as we had all day. With no warning... I MEAN NO WARNING, no lightning
, no freshening wind
, no slight chill in the air... NOTHING, we caught 60+kts slightly abaft of the port beam (genny was stb).
In an instant, the tip of the mast
was under water
, every loose item was flying to the lee in the cabin
including Bill. The boat in wasn't righting as the genny was full of about 5000 gallons of water! The Mainsail
had swung to the lee and was in the drink as well. Unable to release the Genny sheet due to tension, I cut it about 6' from the clew. Well, lemme tell you, a line under that much tension parts
explosively when just TOUCHED with a blade and a CAL 28
will right VERY fast once the sail full of water
Bill was just coming up the companionway
(well at least he was climbing over the cabinetry that was now the sole) when the boat righted.... he went flying below again. The CAL
pointed to the wind all by herself and as we stabilized we found a wildly whipping 150 can be a new hazard all of its own. There was so much tension just from the wind on the unrestrained sail that we parted the roller furling
line trying to reef the sail. The mainsail
stows in a roller furling
boom... same problem!
Bill took the helm
as I donned a harness and life jacket to go forward and pull down the Genny. THE HARNESS SAVED MY LIFE as the boat pitched in the now 6' seas on the beam and I got tossed overboard
THROUGH the lifelines
. Bill was trying to start the engine
, but (we found out later) the gunk of 25 years on the bottom of the tank was now in the fuel
lines. With just the flapping sails
, Bill was able to get her pointed upwind, although making way BACKWARDS. I was able to pull myself over the rail back on deck
when the bow dove into a wave. Bill was yelling to cut the sail, but it was too new, and I was too cheap
. I "climbed" the sail and pulled it down, but due to the bow shipping
so much water, I didn't dare to open the hatch
to stuff it below. I always tie off a few hanks of line on the foredeck when offshore
, and was able to use them to secure the sail on deck
Unbeknownst to me, Bill was trying to sheet in the main a bit to get some helm
(communication was impossible due to the wind and rain), as I was attempting to toss out a sea anchor
. The boat made way, and the sea anchor
fouled on the rudder
and prop.... not good! I then cut the small line holding the main anchor
letting it go as bill slacked the main sheet.. at least we were getting on the same page now.
300' of rode
out, the anchor
grabbed and we cleated it off..... and it was holding! We climbed the mainsail and lashed it to the boom. The mast
was flopping around because the hydraulic backstay tensioner
failed. I thought we were going to loose the rig it was so violent! I ran forward and grabbed the spinnaker halyard
and brought it back to the stern cleat to make a temporary backstay.
It seemed like days, but only 30 minutes had elapsed, and we were about as tired as two old men
can be. With things static for now, we went below to rest and get out of the weather
. Mind you, we were anchored in 60 feet of water with 300' of rode
, in 6 foot seas.... it was not fun! As the adrenalin subsided, the sea-sickness and pain increased. I looked like I was in a fight with a cheese grater from the non-skid, I had a perfect black & blue line where my back broke the stainless pelican hook on the lifeline, both hands were missing skin from hauling lines and knuckling the non-skid. Bill was black & blue all over from his two flying lessons while below... but nothing was broken on either of us, so I guess all was good for now.
Neither of us were prone to motion sickness in the past, and we both have a LOT of time on the water. The first to go was the potato salad Bill ate when first off watch. I never hurled... but that was only due to an empty stomach!
About a day into the 24/7 roller coaster ride, we tried to call for help, only to discover the antenna
on the top of the mast, was shorted due to immersion, and (DUH) the batteries in our EPIRB
were long dead. All of the mast mounted nav stuff was dead too. All that was left was the GPS
app in my iPhone!
To shorten a long story, we were 2 days at anchor trying to effect repairs
enough to get back underway. It took an hour to do 5 minutes' work under those conditions, and the exhaustion and dehydration was debilitating. We could not drink more than a few ounces at a time without it coming up.
We used a cable clamp and one of those nylon ratchet cargo straps to secure the backstay. Tied the Bimini
that got trashed by the boom back out of the way, and worked to clear the fuel
line. About 2200 the second night we had enough repaired that we planned on getting under way at first light the next morning. Up about an hour before daylight, the weather
had subsided to a tolerable level, and we actually were able to eat and drink for the first time in 48 hours.
Mother Nature had other plans.... as the sun was coming up, we see ANOTHER squall line! We went below and went back to sleep. We rocked and rolled for an hour, but after the squall, it was beautiful..... TOO beautiful, as in ZERO wind! We fired up the diesel
, and about halfway through anchor recovery, it quit, dead, nada, zippo. The Whaler has a 30 horse, so all's good to use it to get the anchor up. We lashed the dink to the side, kicked it in gear
and got underway... 55 miles to the sea buoy in KW. The dingy flamed out after about 17 miles, and we had decided to keep the last 5 gallons of gas for the Honda eu2000
Now 4 days into a 30 hour crossing, we were becalmed, out of fuel, had a cobbled together rig, no electronics
, and were STILL 30 miles from the nearest land. The current
was pushing us backwards from our destination
, so we dropped the hook.....again. About midnight, we felt the slightest rise and fall of the hull
, and came topside to find 5kts of wind coming right from our heading. We pulled the anchor by hand, and got underway with a whopping 1kt SOG 45 degrees off our intended course. 24 hours later, we dropped anchor 2 miles off the NW Passage
bell..... WE HAD CELL SERVICE!
After waking up a few frantic friends who were about to report us overdue, we bedded down to wait for daylight. The next morning had light and variable winds of 10-15kts... again directly from our intended course! We threw in the towel and called TowBoat/US!
- Old boats have dirty tanks... have them cleaned!
- Have redundant electronics and communication systems
- If you can't see the weather due to clouds at night.... don't fly full sail!
- Always have safety equipment at hand even in calm weather... INCLUDING gloves, shoes, knee pads & ALWAYS WEAR a KNIFE!
- Lee boards on shelves WILL NOT contain the contents of said shelf
- Wear a safety harness at all times on deck
- Have hand signals worked out in advance in case you cannot be heard from the deck at the helm
- Never set sail with questionable rigging.... ESPECIALLY often overlooked things like a roller furling line!
- Check the batteries in your EPIRB/SPOT/Handhelds
- Carry a LOT more fuel than you think you'll ever need.... AND have at least one extra way of fueling the main engine directly (Bypassing the ENTIRE normal fuel system)